The circle of life.

This blog is more of a personal space for me. I’m not much of a blogger but I do love having a place where I can occasionally share things. I thought I would share something that happened recently in the hope that it might help me to feel better writing it down.

So, I’m someone who really really loves being outside in nature -particularly our garden, but really anywhere I can see the trees and sky. When I’m outside just being amongst it all, it brings me peace – I can honestly say it’s one of the few places I feel absolute calm. Like when I’m sitting in the garden watching the chooks, or that moment on a bush walk when you look up at the canopy of trees and you find your mind completely clear of worries – being in that moment just feels completely right to me. 

And then last Friday something happened that has changed the way I feel. I went up to feed the chooks a little earlier than usual as I had to run an errand before work. I was rushing outside, warm oats in hand (they are a bit spoilt my girls) – and I see one of my chooks running over to me, loose in the backyard. I thought it odd but it’s not the first time we’d had an escapee. So, we both headed on to the coop,  and then I saw another chook loose in the yard – this little girl had a small chunk of her comb missing – I was worried but assumed she had gotten it caught on the fence whilst escaping with her sister. As we reached the top of the stairs and walked towards the coop that’s when I saw it all. Feathers absolutely everywhere. My poor, poor girls, I instantly knew my worst nightmare had happened. As I walked around the coop and their run I found two already gone, one safe in a nesting box, one clearly injured but standing, and a bit later my poor Henny Penny shivering under the agapanthus. 

I blubbered on the phone to whoever I could think to call that was close by. My Dad, sister, brother-in-law and husband all rushed over to help. Dad had to do the humane thing for beautiful Henny. 😭😔 My husband and I raced Pumpkin the injured Wyandotte off to the vet, while my amazing family cleaned away the feathers and horrible things so we didn’t have to.

The chooks are our pets (who as an added bonus provide us yummy eggs), and we both love them as you would any pet. I’ve probably become more attached as I spend more time with them, but we have both been surprised at how much we’ve enjoyed being chicken keepers. I love coming home from work and sitting in the garden watching them do their thing. They are so inquisitive, cheeky, smart and absolutely hilarious sometimes. I know each of their noises and favourite treats, their favourite garden beds or parts of the yard to scratch or sunbathe in. They all have different, unique personalities.

Since Mr Fox came and paid us a visit, our garden has lost its magic on me. I feel like my most sacred, safe, happy place has been invaded. I’m so protective of the chickens I literally jump if a bird rustles in the bushes. But really, it’s just nature doing its thing, right? It was senseless, horrible killing, not unlike us humans do. I’m trying to see this as a “natural” way of life but I really just feel terribly sad and angry that our girls had to suffer like that.

Someone told me not to try and attach human emotions to them, but human emotions are all I have – I can’t relate any other way. I expect they can feel scared, feel pain and loneliness. Just because we can’t understand and feel their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have them. 

Pumpkin is doing amazingly well despite her extensive injuries. She is inside with us getting top treatment. Her only complaint is when we leave the room (as she noisily calls out her annoyance) it’s quite sweet how much she enjoys having company. If I sit by the cage she relaxes and starts to go to sleep. 💗💤 But I’m looking forward to reuniting her with her mates next week.

 
Her neck injury very nearly penetrated her crop, she also had a back wound, punctures on her tummy and other cuts. The vet has been amazed at how well she’s recovering. What a fighter.💪

Anyway, I know in time things will feel okay again. Time is amazing like that.

RIP Ruby, Heidi and Henny Penny – the three cutest, friendliest chickens I have ever encountered. We will always miss you and hope you loved it here with us xx

 

 
  
 

Create a wildlife oasis

Recently we added four new birdbaths to our garden. Within a week we were seeing such an increase of birds and insects that we couldn’t believe we hadn’t done this sooner. I mean, we love gardens, nature, animals…all of it! Yet we clearly didn’t provide enough water in the right places for them to really want to spend loads of time here.

It makes sense that a natural and diverse garden would in turn be a productive one, but it can also be an oasis for a huge range of birds, insects and other wildlife. Since adding these few extra water sources to our garden we have noticed more birds and bugs than ever before, and on top of that our garden is thriving!

Lately we have spotted Superb fairy-wrens, Thornbills, Honeyeaters, Rosellas, King Parrots, Cockys, Kookas and more. Bees and butterflies are everywhere as well as several insect species I’ve never seen before. It is truly beautiful to observe nature in all its colours, shapes and sizes.

Your bird bath doesn’t need to be elaborate, it can simply be a strategically placed large bowl on an old tree stump, or an inexpensive terracotta bird bath from your local garden centre – I picked a couple up for $20 each!

We have a few different types of birdbaths but I’ve noticed birds much prefer terracotta to glazed baths – so go with the rough surface if attracting birds is your intention.

Placement of your water source is key – be sure to keep it a safe distance from your dog/cat so animals feel safe enough to use it. Smaller birds will also feel safer with tree branches close by to make for a quick escape from predators. If you have a bird feeder nearby, make sure your water source is not directly under it as it wouldn’t be  too nice for the wildlife if droppings etc ruined their daily bath! I like to clean and change the water regularly so nothing yucky starts breeding.

I hope this inspires you to go and make or buy an extra birdbath or two!

*A note on bird feeders – it’s much better to attract native birds to your garden with native plants rather than seeds – feeding them regularly can impact their long-term survival in the wild.

Home life – spring

Home is so important to me, it’s where I restore my energy, and where I can completely be myself. It may sound corny but I have really found myself in gardening and connecting to our little patch of land. I have learnt so much and discovered a balance with nature and a passion that was always there, just a little under the surface. 

At the moment we are enjoying the colours that spring brings into our garden, lovely pinks and purples in particular…

   
   
We have cleaned out our greenhouse and re-planted lots of lovely seeds, the rocket was the first to show up! 👏

   
 
Also on our to-do list was moving our baby chicks outside as they were outgrowing their space in the laundry. As they are only 4 weeks old we have still kept them under a heat lamp and made sure they have very good weather protection. They have feathered out a lot though and seem to be loving it outside – there is loads more to look at! We are in the process of attaching a run so they can scratch around and explore a lot more – will post photos of this soon. 😊

As you can tell from the pictures the big chickens are extremely fascinated with the new arrivals. It’s great to see them getting used to each other – I have no idea how it will go when they have to share the same space though!  I’ll worry about that when the time comes.😁

 
  
  
So that’s a little bit of lately, from our house on a hill! X

Little chicken, big chicken!

Well we have been busy lately with seven little baby chicks to look after and three new chickens 💗🐤🐥 Unfortunately we will only be keeping four of the chicks as my sister will take three. It’s going to be hard to part with them but we only have so much room! 

The chicks are absolutely adorable, it really is very easy to look after them. The main thing, as with all animals, is keeping their enclosure clean, and giving them plenty of food and fresh water. I have started introducing some fresh herbs for them to peck at too (rosemary and wormwood mostly) they love it! If you do this just make sure to change out the herbs regularly.

Did you know feeding chicks a mashed up boiled egg is like a superfood to them? Amazing how nature works.

This is Esmeralda the Barnevelder 😂 

 

They like to have company and to be able to see you so make sure to spend time with them, they sometimes cry when you leave the room it’s so hard not to go in there all the time!

We started them out in a cardboard box but within a week we knew we needed something bigger as they started testing out their wings a lot! 
 

Lucky for me I have a very handy husband, 😊 he built a new enclosure that we can also use in our backyard coop when we introduce them to the big girls. It flips upside down so the floor will become the roof, and also has a ready made nesting box attached! When they are ready to be introduced we will create an entrance that’s big enough for only them to fit through so they can run inside and hide if they get a little scared of the other chickens.

  

And here are the big girls! I have never owned such friendly chickens. In the video below you can see me trying to pat them at the end and absolutely failing. 😂 But now we can easily pat all of them, and they run to us and like to be close whenever we are in the garden. It’s only been a few weeks but I am in love! 💜

   
   
And for a bit of a laugh here is a little video of our new feathered friends! 

http://youtu.be/Phzgj20eef4

Winter dreaming

Today I walked around the yard, determined to be outside despite the freezing cold! I wanted to reconnect with the garden as I have been a little bit neglectful lately, with renovations and holidays taking over. I was thinking about how lucky we are to have the different seasons, each one allowing us to appreciate the next even more.

So here are a couple of pictures I have taken recently, trying to capture the silence and beauty of winter.


   

And here is a little poem my walk around the garden today inspired me to write.

Winter – A poem © Nicole Boothby 2015

These winter winds
So sharp and fierce
Do wear me down,
Though not my spirits

For winter comes and winter goes
And through all the dark and freezing toes
Once again spring does show

With merry face and wings of glee
The flowers emerging, the sun set free
And we the lucky ones who see
The endless cascading of birds upon trees
The colourful blooms alighted by bees

To bear the cold, the wind and sleet
The muddy yard and sodden feet
To watch the flowers disappear
And nature take a lower gear

This only makes the spring more sweet
A stronger person does it meet!

Backyard chooks!

Owning chickens isn’t something I always knew I would do. It came about because we started to become more aware of our food, where it comes from and what’s in it. For me it started with palm oil. My brother started going on about it years ago, explaining to us how it was destroying rainforests and killing orangutans and other wildlife. This was a huge eye opener for me, I truly had no idea this sort of brutality was undertaken and, even worse – that I was inadvertently supporting it. We only really began reading labels at this point, and once you go down that road there is no going back. There are things that once you know you can’t un-know.

It is our responsibility and our right to know exactly what is on our plate (or going onto our bodies), and how it got there. What specifically, is our money supporting? One thing that came as a shock, was just how cruel and misleading the egg industry can be. We had always purchased free range eggs, but I no longer had the blind faith I used to in labels. What you picture in your head (happy chooks roaming in huge paddocks with plenty of food) isn’t always the reality.

So, last year my sister asked us if we could mind her chooks for a while. We had just finished building our own coop with plans to get a few chickens, so really it was perfect timing. I was a bit nervous about taking on this new challenge – I didn’t know the first thing about looking after chickens! But I thought taking care of someone else’s would be a good trial run – it would ease me into it so to speak.

Well, nearly a year later and the girls are still here! We will be saying goodbye to them in about a month (they will be going to their lovely new home and brand new coop at my sisters house), which is going to be tough as I have become quite attached to these quirky little ladies.

The main reason I wanted to chat about chickens, is to show people how much fun it can be and that having other pets already may not be an obstacle.

Firstly, hats of to my husband for building an awesome enclosure for them! This was his project, I hadn’t quite gotten my head around having chickens when he started building it, I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do – and also how the dogs would be with them – but once he started there was no going back!

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hmmm...

hmmm…

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there seems to be a theme here...is this coop for the chickens or humans?

there seems to be a theme here…is this coop for the chickens or the humans?

Well that was it, the chickens had landed! When they arrived, we kept the dogs in our house and placed the chickens inside their new little home. It’s best if you start the chooks inside where they will be sleeping, then when they’re comfortable they can may their way out. Later on, we brought the dogs out on their leads to let them look at the chickens from outside their enclosure. I had never planned on letting the chickens free range with the dogs when we weren’t there to supervise, however I wanted the dogs to get to a point where they ignored them and didn’t show much interest. When they stopped sniffing and looking excitedly at the chickens, we let them off the leads. They seemed to have accepted their new feathered friends!

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Seeing the very first egg was definitely an amazing experience.

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Dexter thought so too…

yummm can I have it can I have it?!

yummm can I have it can I have it?!

And the very first dozen! One of the best parts about keeping chooks is giving away any excess eggs to friends and family. Who knows, it may even inspire them to get their own!

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I became pretty obsessed with everything chicken related (it’s in my personality). So I did some research online, read a couple of books (I highly recommend The Chook Book by Jackie French) and decided to plant some chicken friendly herbs and things to grow around the outside of their enclosure. The plan was to place them where the chooks could brush past them and nibble at them from inside the coop, without destroying the plants. There was a mixture of natural insect repellents like rosemary, tansy, wormwood, feverfew and fennel. I also planted some general herbs that are said to be good for their health and the quality of their eggs – such as comfrey, vervain and thyme. Lastly I planted some yummy berries for them. I also read that (very similar to humans) garlic is extremely good for chicken health. I bought garlic flakes to add to their feed, and also apple cider vinegar (a tip from my sister) to add to their water – another great health booster for chickens and humans. It’s incredible how similar their diet is to ours! We also feed all the egg shells back to the chickens, we just let them dry out in the oven at a low temperature, and then grind them up in the mortar and pestle and add to their feed. Other things our girls really love – warm oats with apple, brown rice, flaxseeds, tuna or any cooked meat that isn’t chicken, almond pulp (leftover from almond milk), corn, kale, silverbeet, berries, watermelon in summer…just to name a few. In winter I soak all their food in warm water.

Then I started doing chicken aromatherapy (too far you think? Maybe!) Every week or two I started chopping off some herbs from the garden and adding to their nesting boxes, it’s supposed to help them feel calm and lay lovely eggs. Most often I use a mixture of lemonbalm, rosemary, perennial basil and wormwood or mugwort (I love these names, so Harry Potteresque!)

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For the first week or two we kept them inside their enclosure, but we didn’t wait long to let them out, we were so excited to see them free range!

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Bessie leaping off the wall - it took her ages to work up the courage!

Bessie leaping off the wall – it took her ages to work up the courage!

Something not so fun about this experience, is how many birds (mainly crows and magpies) suddenly appeared. Initially we didn’t have a roof, so we were asking for trouble. We weren’t too worried about foxes as they couldn’t dig under, the enclosure was high and also cantilevered, and to top it off we had an automatic door on a timer so the chickens were safely tucked inside their house each night. Even if a fox managed to get over the wire into their enclosure they still couldn’t get to the chickens. But the birds were another story – on top of eating the chicken feed they started pinching some eggs! They do this by piercing the egg with their beak, then they literally fly off with it to enjoy their reward from a safe distance. On top of all this one of the chickens caught lice off the birds which meant we had to treat them all. Needless to say, we now have a roof!

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Something that has really surprised me is just how well the chickens have integrated with the dogs. We are at a point now where we can leave them unsupervised together. If anything I think the chickens have it over the dogs! Note the stare off over the treat below, this particular chicken is hands down the boldest – she ended up stealing the treat and running away with it!

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Sometimes they just like being close to each other!

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Keeping chickens is not only fun, they are so sweet, get ridiculously excited over treats, create awesome manure for the garden and compost, eat weeds, make cute noises… and if you feed them well they will lay the tastiest eggs you have ever eaten!

 

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Recycled garden love

I love the idea of using recycled products in the garden. It’s a chance to breathe new life into something that was destined to be landfill. We live in a time of over-consumption and often take things for granted. We don’t always see just how wasteful we are being. Next time you are planning a trip to the tip, step back and think – what can I use in the garden? Whether it’s old timber, a crate, an old chest, a bit of wire… chances are you or a fellow gardening mate can find a use for it.

An example of this is when my brother came to do a concreting job for us. We were left with some excess reinforcement mesh (reo) and thought, this is pretty flexible stuff, I wonder if we could turn it into a garden arch! We had a section of garden that we had cleared of blackberries and ivy, and we wanted it to be a no doggy zone – our secret garden. Well as it turns out, reo is perfect for making garden arches! We also had some timber from an old fence that we thought we could make into a gate. Even better, we had some family members over who we roped into helping us! DIY time.

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After the arch was made we went around gathering up long dead bits of ivy and bendy sticks to thread through the reo.

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The ‘Secret Garden’ was pretty bare at this point! We had planted some lilly pilly’s along the fence line and cleared a bit of a pathway but that was about it. The soil was full of rocks and none to appetizing for plants.

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Then we made a gate out of some timber from an old fence. My other half had the great idea of using a hole saw bit to make a cute little keyhole in the gate so you could peek into the garden. It may look a little too rustic to some people, but we were over the moon with our homemade gate and garden arch. I planted some clematis either side of the arch.

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secret garden arch

secret garden arch

When we planted the garden, we first put down some gypsum. We made very large holes for each plant and filled each hole with loads of good soil. When everything was planted we mulched it VERY thickly! We have since mulched a couple more times, and now when I go to plant something new the soil is incredibly rich and fertile.

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Garden treasure chest!

We found this beautiful old chest at a farm clearing sale in Gippsland. Drilled a couple of holes in the bottom, used a bit of old timber to prop up the lid, and now we have a lovely garden chest. I think it makes a great feature!

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Preparing your garden beds for replanting – the no-dig way!

So here in Melbourne winter is well and truly coming! Time to get my little seedlings that have been sheltering in the safety of the greenhouse, straight into the ground where they belong. A couple of months ago I went to an amazing permaculture workshop, where we spent the day on the most majestic property. We re-planted a few of their garden beds in a way I had never tried before (not digging up the soil and mixing it all around first, what?!) but I love the idea of not disturbing the existing soil, it just made complete sense to me. So instead of doing it the old way, I am choosing to add to the soil that has been depleted by the previous seasons veg by building up the beds with layers of rich, organic matter.

Replanting your veg patch the ‘no-dig’ way

Firstly I pulled out all the old veg from my veg patches and ensured there were no unwanted weeds left.

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Then I gathered my ingredients, this was the fun part! I used:

  • newspaper
  • grass clippings (my husband mowed the lawns the previous day and I just asked him to set the clippings aside for me)

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  • comfrey (picked straight from the garden)
Comfrey is so great at enriching your soil. It is also a wonderful compost activator. Or simply chop off the leaves and leave them where they lie!

Comfrey is so great at enriching your soil. It is also a wonderful compost activator. Or simply chop off the leaves and leave them where they lie!

  • lots of dry leaves (plenty of those falling all over our driveway at the moment!)

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  • chicken manure (courtesy of our chooks!)
This is a mixture of chicken poo and wood shavings from the coop :)

This is a mixture of chicken poo and wood shavings from the coop 🙂

  • straw (Lucerne would be perfect for this if you can get it)

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  • homemade compost
Black gold!

Black gold!

Now for building up my beds! I find it quite similar to making compost. The point is to add lots of dry matter along with high-nutrient green weeds & manure to get the process going.

First I layered the newspaper (because I was adding to an existing garden bed I only used a layer of newspaper – if you were making a bed from scratch you would need a lot more) – I would have liked another layer but I ran out! Water the newspaper until wet through.

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Now for the grass clippings, a wonderful source of nitrogen!

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I then added dry leaves and once again watered in.

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After that came comfrey! I picked all the leaves off 2 plants and still had nowhere near enough! Ideally you would have enough to cover the whole bed. I will definitely be planting more comfrey this year, it’s amazing for composting and replenishing depleted soils.

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Next came my straw along with some more water. I added a thin layer of straw, just enough to cover the bed.

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Now for some lovely (yes I said lovely…) chicken poo! I certainly never use that word when I’m cleaning up my dogs business off the lawn, but chicken manure has such amazing nutrients, and next to no smell! According to Wikipedia, chicken manure has the highest amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium of all animal manures. You go girls! I then watered in the beds…again. I really need to get a long hose, those trips up and down the hill to fill the watering can took their toll!

After this came a layer of our lovely homemade compost. Before living here I had never made compost properly, I am absolutely mortified to think of how much food used to go in the bin at our house. Not anymore, there is absolutely zero food waste in our home which I am incredibly proud of, and it is ridiculously easy! Something I definitely wouldn’t have believed a few years ago.

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Another layer of straw and some more water and we’re ready to rock and roll!

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Time for the best part of all – choosing which seedlings to plant! I wish we could plant them all, but we don’t have quite enough beds (yet) – so friends and family will benefit from our excess. Lucky we know a few people who love to grow their own food. 🙂

A small portion of our lovely seedlings!

A small portion of our lovely seedlings!

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If you’re planting your beds like this, it’s important to add a handful of compost in with each seedling.

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Our lovely beds are complete! A mixture of kales, spinach, brussels, rocket, silverbeet, broccoli and cabbage. All the lovely ingredients in these beds will start breaking down and enriching the soil, providing loads of food for our veggies. Don’t forget to water in those seedlings!

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If possums love your veg like ours do, it might be worth doing a bit of possum-proofing. This was done in the dark… I was certainly ready to put my feet up that night! But to me, even when I’m exhausted, there is nothing more rewarding than a productive day in the garden. ❤

Growing things

It’s hard to believe just a few years ago I had never grown a single thing in my life. My mum is an avid gardener, growing up I can remember watching her in the garden, listening to her rattle off the name of every plant she saw (and sometimes talking to them!)- and although I admired her and loved looking at the garden, I never felt inspired to get into it myself. My husband and I ended up renting a house for several years in the southeast suburbs of Melbourne, close to the beach, and did attempt to plant a few things – but nothing would take and we simply gave up.

When we moved to the Dandenong Ranges, everything changed. We are both huge nature lovers and moving to such a beautiful, lush area instantly re-kindled our interest in gardening again. We ended up on a fairly big block, and once we had cleared away a large portion of blackberry bushes from the backyard, we realised we had a site that got plenty of sun, and we thought, let’s give this another bash! He did most of the hard landscaping, I helped to lug buckets of soil to fill our new vegie patches, and I began to do some research.

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The area behind the fence is mostly blackberry bushes – back then we couldn’t even access what is now our lovely veg, fruit and herb garden!

Early stages - looking rather bare and horrible!

Early stages – looking rather bare and horrible!

I bought a book on companion planting – and this inspired me to get out my sketch book and design a garden based on companion planting and – without knowing it – permaculture principles. I planned to use different varieties of plants as natural pest repellents and beneficial insect attractors – I would never use anything artificial in my garden!! We planted everything with plenty of organic matter and mulch, worked hard to group all the right plants together, and sat back to watch in anticipation…

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I couldn’t believe my eyes, everything grew! And not only grew, thrived! We were getting so many lovely bees, and although slugs were stealing a portion of our veg, there was plenty for them and plenty for us. That was it, I was hooked on this gardening thing. And then I began to think – what next?! We eventually bought a greenhouse, and last year was the first time I started growing seeds that I had gathered from my own garden… I realised this gardening thing was becoming more than a bit of fun, it was becoming my life.

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It’s hard to believe most of this started as little seedlings!

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Lily loves the garden too ❤

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